The Zygon Center for Religion and Science is dedicated to relating religious traditions and scientific knowledge in order to gain insight into the origins, nature, and destiny of humans and their environment, and to realize the common goal of a world in which love, justice, and responsible patterns of living prevail. Seeking to harness religion and science together in this shared purpose, Zygon Center takes its distinctive name from the Greek word for “yoking” or “joining.” Zygon Center brings together scientists, theologians, philosophers, and other scholars to address basic questions and issues of human concern that include:
- how we understand the world in which we live and our place in that world;
- how traditional concerns and beliefs of religion can be related to that understanding;
- how the joint reflection of scientists, philosophers, and theologians can contribute to the welfare of the human community;
- how dialogue and cooperation can be promoted among the world’s religions;
- how to promote international discussion of the Center’s theme areas.
Established in 1988, Zygon Center is a partnership of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) and the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS). Ralph Wendell Burhoe, winner of the 1980 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, helped establish the center and provided an endowment for its programs, serving as Senior Associate until his death in 1997. Philip Hefner, then Professor of Systematic Theology at LSTC, was the first Director of Zygon Center (1988-2003). Antje Jackelén, then Professor of Systematic Theology at LSTC and now Bishop of Lund in the Church of Sweden, served as the second Director of Zygon Center (2003-2007). Gayle Woloschak, molecular biologist and professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, served as the third Director (2007-2009) and continues as Associate Director. Beginning in 2010, Dr. Lea F. Schweitz, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology / Religion and Science at LSTC, leads Zygon Center as its fourth Director.
The life of the Zygon Center takes shape in teaching, research, and outreach.
The teaching program provides seminary students and other interested people with an appreciation of the natural and social sciences and the relationship of religion and science. It helps them to understand the issues that must be addressed if the church is to fulfill its role in a world society in which beliefs are increasingly being shaped by scientific knowledge. Teaching takes the form of several course offerings, mentoring and networking for doctoral and master’s students, and an Emphasis in Religion and Science, all offered through LSTC by Zygon Center.
Offered in the Spring semester of alternating years, The Epic of Creation and The Future of Creation are graduate-level seminary courses and public lecture series in which affiliated faculty from several universities and seminaries offer scientific, biblical, and theological perspectives on our common origins and nature and on our shared destiny and environment. The Advanced Seminar in Religion and Science, offered each fall semester, explores new and enduring issues through interdisciplinary inquiry in a research seminar for faculty, graduate students, and other professionals; recent seminars topics have included “Science Explores the Inner Self”, “The Hard Problem: Consciousness, Experience, and Mind”, and “Evil: Perspectives from Theology and Science.” Lectures are free and open to the public, and course credit is available through LSTC or via cross-registration through other schools of the Association of Theological Schools (ACTS).
Zygon Center faculty advise and mentor doctoral, master’s, and ministry students at LSTC—including those enrolled in the Religion and Science Emphasis, which allows students to focus on religion-science dialogue as groundwork for scholarship and ministry. The Religion and Science Student Society (RSSS), the graduate student society of Zygon Center, welcomes graduate, professional, and ministry students of all disciplines from schools across Chicagoland for collegial connection, constructive conversation, and closer collaboration with leading scholars. RSSS sponsors regular member meetings and special public events including an annual Student Symposium on Science and Spirituality, provides access to leading scholars and faculty mentors, and offers its active members journal subscriptions and travel grants.
The research program focuses on questions which will benefit from an approach that is both theologically and scientifically informed. A special interest is interpreting classic Christian faith in ways that are credible in the context of contemporary scientific understanding and which include inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.
The Zygon Center supports the research of faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars through conferences, symposia, and workshops featuring distinguished thinkers in religion and science. The Zygon Center shares its offices with Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, the most established peer-reviewed academic journal in its field.
The outreach program makes the insights gained from Center activities available to a wider audience, including scientists, theologians, philosophers, religious studies scholars, religious leaders, and other professionals. The Zygon Center reaches out through courses and conferences open to the public, through presentations to religious and professional organizations, and through web and print resources.